EU Commission to create common oncology imaging database

The European Commission launched its European Cancer Imaging Initiative on Monday (23 January), which aims to create a common digital infrastructure across the EU to facilitate data sharing on the disease.

“Digital technologies and artificial intelligence play an increasingly important role in the battle against cancer,” said Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, at the launch event for the European Cancer Imaging Initiative organised by the European Commission.

The initiative aims to help healthcare professionals integrate cutting-edge imaging technologies to improve cancer detection and treatment through digital infrastructure.

“Artificial intelligence still offers enormous, untapped potential to continue delivering tremendous benefits in health – particularly when it comes to cancer detection, treatment and care,” Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said at the event.

While Europe already has cutting-edge technologies in oncology imaging and cancer management, from prevention to treatment of the disease, challenges remain.

“First, the data is fragmented and scattered across different databases and clinical centres. And second, the data is often not easily accessible,” Breton said.

The Commission’s new initiative aims to address this challenge, starting with making a common database of millions of images available to European researchers and physicians.

This would avoid the data divide between national and European initiatives.

Facilitating access to this data would also be an opportunity to make progress in cancer treatment.

In short, the initiative aims to “use this data to develop innovative digital solutions that can revolutionise cancer care”, Breton said.

Europe’s beating cancer plan

The European cancer imaging initiative is part of the broader European Cancer Plan presented in February 2021 by the European Commission.

The cancer plan has a budget of €4 billion divided into four specific areas of action: prevention, early diagnosis, better access to treatment, and improving quality of life for patients and survivors.

On prevention, the European Commission has set ambitious targets: to provide access to screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer to 90% of eligible Europeans.

The plan also emphasises increased screening for lung, stomach and prostate cancer.

These six types of cancer are the most common, accounting for more than half of all cancers in the EU.

The European Cancer Imaging Initiative would not only improve the quality of cancer screening across Europe, but also improve the treatment of the disease.

Indeed, the initiative “will provide valuable resources and image libraries to stakeholders from the clinical field, from research and innovation”, Kyriakides said.

According to her, better access to information can lead to the development of the next generation of cancer diagnostics and treatments.

“While technology alone cannot overcome the unacceptable disparities that still exist in the EU when it comes to screening, it could make screening more precise, timely and accessible,” concluded the Health Commissioner.

Protecting patient data

The European Commission’s initiative will increase the exchange of digital data on a European scale, data that contains, among other things, sometimes confidential – or sensitive – information about patients.

To protect the data of patients, but also of researchers, and to try to reassure them, the Commission wishes to create a “framework of trust”.

“The data infrastructure we are creating will be open, but – and this is important – open on our European terms,” said Breton.

In other words, in the event that an individual agrees to share their health data, it will be done in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The digital infrastructure “will comply with EU values and rules” and “will guarantee a high level of security and protection of personal data”, Breton promised.

In 2020, cancer caused the death of 1.3 million Europeans, according to the latest data from the European Commission.

If no effective measures are put in place, cancer is expected to increase by 25% by 2035 and become the leading cause of death in the EU, the European Cancer Action Plan estimated in 2021.

“I encourage the entire health ecosystem to closely collaborate. Together, you can make the most of the huge potential of the health data that will be unlocked by the European Cancer Imaging Initiative,” Breton concluded.


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